State Politics

The dead zone in the Gulf could be the size of Vermont this year, researchers say

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico likely will be twice the average size, researchers from several universities and government agencies said Tuesday.

The Gulf Dead Zone is an area that forms at the mouths of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers and has such low amounts of oxygen that most sea life must swim away or suffocate.

This year, scientists say it probably will be 10,089 square miles, or about the size of Vermont.

If this prediction comes to pass, it will be the largest Dead Zone ever seen, said Matt Rota, senior policy director of the Gulf Restoration Network.

“This prediction is disheartening, to say the least, especially in the light of the Trump Administration’s attempts to dismantle our environmental laws,” Rota said in an email. “We should be strengthening efforts to reduce Dead Zone-causing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that flows into the Gulf from industrial agricultural fields, not rolling back protections.

“A Dead Zone that is predicted to be five times the goal of the Hypoxia Task Force is a wake-up call. If we are going to fix the Dead Zone, we need a combination of strong pollution protections, dedicated funding, and corporate accountability.”

Over 15 years ago, the Dead Zone, or Hypoxia, Task Force was formed, which includes federal and state agencies. This task force’s goal was to lead a path toward the reduction of the size of the Dead Zone.

“Sadly, while they have had many meetings, drafted three ‘Action Plans,’ and pushed solely voluntary mechanisms to reduce Dead Zone-causing pollution, we aren’t anywhere closer to their stated goal,” Rota said. “Their goal, which was supposed to be accomplished by 2015 and now 2035, is a Dead Zone that averages approximately 2,000 square miles.”